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House GOP's WhipCast: Mobilizing the Minority (Updated)

BY Nancy Scola | Thursday, October 29 2009

Meet WhipCast, the newly public BlackBerry application that House Republicans, led by Republican Whip Eric Cantor of Virginia and Kevin McCarthy of California, are showing around the Hill. Politico's Mike Allen has the story. WhipCast is meant to give the 177 Republicans serving in the House and their staffers a way to keep up with the news on the House floor, track legislation, have mobile access to congressional reports, and even, says McCarthy, provide a laugh or two with a week's end "Friday funny." The idea has merit. Here's what Cantor's office says WhipCast offers both House Republicans and the interested public who might want to keep tabs on House action:

All Media On-the-Go Featuring documents, audio, image, and video updates the WhipCast delivers an impressive array of rich media content.

Expansive Updates The WhipCast features talking points, policy discussions, polling information, floor schedule updates, and more.

Reliable Resource The WhipCast will automatically update with the latest information alerts as they are made available each day -- all without cluttering your email inbox.

Offline Access If you install an optional memory card with your BlackBerry, you will have access to all the latest information - even when a cell network or wifi connection is not available. So, the next time you board a flight - you will still have all the latest information right at your fingertips.

img_whipcast_emptyWe're hearing reports of a somewhat buggy implementation, like a "Bill Facts" section that is entirely devoid of any actual content. That's not ideal for the House GOP, as they attempt to make the case that they offer a sensible alternative to Democratic leadership. (Along those lines, a senior Democratic aide jokes that Democratic staffers are asking each other why the GOP is "spending time on an app instead of producing the healthcare bill that they'd promised 134 days ago.") [UPDATE] Matt Lira, director of new media in the GOP Whip's office, notes that the app is "empty" upon installation to keep the download clean and speedy, and the app will be populated with content as the Whip's office sends it out. That said, says Lira, they're open to doing things different should their users prefer it another way. [END UPDATE] This is the fourth iteration of the WhipCast software in seven months, says Politico, but it does seem like there are still some technical kinks to be worked out.

And while making the app public is a respectable bid at openness, the external audience for something like the WhipCast application is probably some small fraction of the the audience for news, like this post, about WhipCast.

That said, as tool for the House Republican caucus, WhipCast has a lot going for it. Mobile technologies like cell phones and Blackberrys are particularly well suited to meet many of the challenges that those in Congress face everyday, namely having to be in three places at once, having limited access to information, and needing the ability to quickly up to speed on a wide variety of topics while on the go. If WhipCast can get the kinks worked out -- and if folks in and out of the House actually find it useful and intuitive enough to actually use it -- the app could prove itself a useful tool for House Republicans as they attempt to organize their minority.